With record numbers of applicants seeking jobs in the development field, preparing an effective resume is all the more essential to getting a foot in the door.
Certainly, there are different conventions around the world when it comes to resume writing. However, in the international development field, these distinctions are becoming less important. Many development agencies recruit candidates from all over the world, and even many localized organizations often rely on international consulting firms to assist in recruitment. Most recruiters interviewed for this article actually frowned upon regional idiosyncrasies, particularly when it comes to mid-level and senior managers who should be accustomed to cross-cultural communication. As the job market becomes increasingly global, savvy job seekers should be aware of the new set of international norms that can make or break a resume.
Before submitting a resume, it is crucial to tailor its structure to fit a particular job posting, recruiters stress. Certainly the content matters, but the structure speaks volumes about a candidate’s ability to convey information clearly, which is an essential skill for many positions.
“The way you present your CV also demonstrates your ability to communicate, and particularly to explain a professional business proposition,” said Ann Collins, government reforms advisor for a project with the U.K.’s Department for International Development.
Several recruiters noted that using a pleasant visual format is essential to forming a good first impression. Using a small font and wide margins is no substitute for writing concisely, they stressed. Michael Emery, chief of recruitment for the United Nations Development Program, said candidates should leave enough room on the page for recruiters to make notes, and they should consider a font that is easier on the eyes than the default options.
Even though many resumes are submitted online, recruiters often prefer to print out paper copies. Kate Warren, director of global recruitment services with Devex, encouraged applicants to proofread hard copies before submitting them online, because what looks fine on a screen may seem awkward on paper.
While one-page resumes are en vogue for many U.S. industries, international development recruiters usually like to see a bit more. While recent graduates may be able to condense their history into one page, Warren maintained that serious candidates for higher-level candidates should use more space to flesh out their experience.
Just don’t go overboard.
“If an organization gets hundreds of CVs, they do not have time to look through pages and pages,” Collins told Devex.
Resumes should be no longer than two pages, Collins suggested. Milovan Filimonovic, a Belgrade-based human resources consultant, set the cutoff at four pages if a candidate has extensive regional experience to highlight.
One way to ensure concision is to cut out information that is not directly relevant to the position being applied for. Personal information, such as family status and experiences that are unrelated to a vacancy, can make a resume seem cluttered and even unprofessional. Liliana Pozzo, a recruiter with Enterprising Solutions Global, noted that this is a common frustration she has when reviewing resumes from Latin America, where job applicants often include everything from the number of children they have to the high school they attended.
“They think that the thicker their resume the more important they are,” Pozzo said. “[But] if you worked at a restaurant, it’s probably not relevant.”
The first page
Although multi-page resumes may be acceptable, that doesn’t mean recruiters will sift through all details. It’s essential to have the first page entice recruiters to keep reading.
Emery likes candidates to use the first page to name some core competencies that specifically relate to the vacancy announcement, as well as a “career synopsis” that gives a few bullet points about one’s professional experiences, which can then be fleshed out in greater detail on subsequent pages.
One critical item that should be towards the top of a solid resume is a summary that entices a recruiter to look for more details. This summary provides an excellent opportunity for applicants to tailor their resume to a specific position, Warren said, suggesting the use of terms that are likely to catch a recruiter’s eye and show up in keyword searches.
In Emery’s view, such a summary section should be a “statement of motivation” that clearly outlines how a candidate’s skills fit into the mission of the organization and requirements of the vacancy. But be careful about wording. Emery said he finds it “infuriating” when candidates refer to themselves in the third-person.
“I like to see what you say about yourself,” Emery said.
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There is some disagreement as to whether one should list education before or after work experience. Emery prefers to see academic experience towards the top of a resume, right below the candidate’s name and contact information. Pozzo tends to look at professional experience in the region first, so she likes to see educational requirements towards the end. Warren encouraged candidates to feature whichever section is the most impressive towards the top of a resume. Recent graduates with extensive research experience may wish to highlight their education, while it would probably make more sense for senior to mid-level professionals to highlight their career experience.
“It’s kind of like telling a story,” she said. “You can’t assume that people are going to read between the lines.”
In determining the order of professional experiences, it doesn’t pay to be creative. Recruiters generally prefer chronological order - starting with the present position and working backward. There isn’t really a limit on how far back candidates should go, so long as it all relates to the vacancy.
“If you have 30 years experience and it’s relevant, then go for it,” said Pozzo, who stressed, however, that less detail is necessary for positions that were held a long time ago.
Choice of words
Recruiters discourage attempts to pad a resume with vague language. Using “fancy” adjectives that obscure the real nature of a candidate’s experience isn’t likely to fool anyone. According to Emery, “some people like to make internships sound like they were the secretary general,” which makes a candidate seem evasive and dishonest. Emery said candidates should be direct and specific. For example, instead of writing “was responsible for managing teams,” he would prefer to see something like “managed 3 teams of 10 people.”
Pozzo echoed the need to provide details.
Some candidates feel the need to include a list of every conference they have attended. Recruiters say this step is often counterproductive.
“If you are an expert in the field, then I assume you might have gone to some conferences,” Pozzo said.
Candidates should only list conferences in which they were featured speakers, Pozzo suggested. Emery believes that the knowledge gained by attending conferences should be more directly stated elsewhere in the resume.
“What’s important is not what you’ve attended but how it has been reflected in your work,” he said.
When it comes to listing your experiences, it’s best not to stray from the traditional model of headings followed by bullet points. Pozzo particularly discouraged candidates from inserting a table into their resumes.
“It’s better to have it neatly spaced out,” she said.
Sometimes, organizations require a resume to be submitted via an online CV-building tool. This can take the guess work out of how to structure a resume. Cutting and pasting a resume into the online tool usually works fine, Warren said, although spacing sometimes needs to be adjusted to fit the text fields.
On some career networking sites such as Devex, uploading a photo can be a great way to personalize an online profile. Some candidates even include a photo with their standard resume, which Collins said is particularly common in the Middle East. But unless this option is specifically offered, it is a safe bet to refrain from including a picture.
Filimonovic remarked: “I tend to agree that a photo should not be required in order to rule out prejudice and in order to prevent discrimination.”
Date of birth
U.S. organizations in particular do not ask for a candidate’s age in order to prevent age discrimination. Major exceptions include the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Program, which have strict rules about hiring candidates above a certain age. Similarly, some junior professional programs limit employment to those under a certain age. For this reason, Emery prefers candidates to list their date of birth at the top of a resume. So, on this issue, it is best to check if there are policies that allow age to be a determining factor in employment.
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